Lactation After Loss

Updated: Sep 16

Happy Breastfeeding awareness month from Huddle Up Moms. Thank you for your continued support this month! Don’t forget to purchase one of our Breastfeeding Welcome Here Stickers found on our breastfeeding campaign page.


We know this month has been a focus on advocating, supporting, educating, and normalizing breastfeeding, but we also want to bring to light some of the difficult topics surrounding breastfeeding. Huddle Up Moms is honored to feature one of our local lactation specialists, Katherine Havener, in this important topic related to pregnancy loss and breastfeeding.



DISCLOSURE: This information is not meant to be ALL encompassing and should NOT replace seeking advice from your health care provider for specific questions, solutions, and concerns about your health! The purpose of this blog is to spark curiosity and gain some insight into your health.


One of the most difficult things a mother can experience is the loss of a child. Whether a mother loses her baby in late pregnancy, or postpartum, the feelings of grief and sadness can become deeper when her body starts to produce milk. Her engorged breasts, and the milk itself, are a reminder of the baby that she did not get to bring home from the hospital, and that she does not get to breastfeed.


Because of this, some bereaved mothers may wish to stop producing milk as soon as possible. Others may see their breastmilk as a lasting connection to their baby and decide to donate to other babies in need.


If you have recently lost your baby, we are so sorry for your loss. Here are some ideas to help guide you through these very difficult choices:


How to stop your milk as quickly as possible.


Within three to four days of delivery, your breasts will become engorged with milk. The breasts work on a supply and demand basis. When milk is expressed from the breast frequently, it tells the body to make more milk. Conversely, when the breasts are kept full, this tells the body to make less. In order to stop your body from producing more milk, you need to find the balance between keeping your breasts as full as possible, while avoiding the pain and complications that can accompany engorgement.


Here are the ways to do that:


  • Pump off just enough milk to relieve the pressure on your breasts. You can use an inexpensive manual hand pump, a silicone breast bulb (e.g. Haaka), or simply use your fingers to hand express just enough milk so that your breasts don’t feel so firm. Do this only as frequently as needed for comfort. You can also periodically take a warm shower or soak your breasts in a sink full of warm water, which will cause milk to leak out.

  • Cold packs. Place ice packs on your breasts for 5-15 minutes to help reduce inflammation and discomfort from engorgement.

  • Cabbage leaves. Place cold washed cabbage leaves on each of your breasts under your bra. Switch them out every 2 hours for a new set of cold leaves. These will reduce pain and inflammation and can help reduce your milk supply.

  • Medications. Anti-inflammatory medications (e.g. ibuprofen, acetaminophen) can help with the discomfort of engorgement. Medications like pseudoephedrine and estrogen-containing birth control pills have been proven to reduce milk supply. Ask your obstetrician for a prescription and/or information about the dosage for these medications.

  • Herbals. Sage, parsley, and peppermint are herbs that are known to reduce milk supply. These herbs can be consumed whole, or in capsule or tincture form.

During this process, watch out for hardened areas in your breasts, called blocked ducts, or symptoms of breast infection like fever, aches, and sore and/or red areas on your breasts. Should you experience these symptoms, please call your obstetrician or an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) as soon as possible.


Donating Your Milk.


Donating your breastmilk is a wonderful gift to babies in need. There is a high demand for breastmilk, both by Human Milk Banks, as well as individual families that seek it through informal milk sharing.


Here is what you need to do in order to donate your milk:


Obtain a pump. You will want to obtain a double electric breast pump in order to extract the milk from your breasts thoroughly and efficiently. All medical insurance companies in the US must provide breast pumps to lactating mothers as per the Affordable Care Act. Call your insurance company to obtain a pump. Pumps are also available at all major retail outlets.


Pump frequently. In order to establish and maintain a milk supply, you will need to pump your breasts every 3 hours during the day, and at least once overnight. You should start this as soon as possible after delivery. Pump your breasts until they stop dripping milk, or for approximately 20 minutes each session. Store your breast milk in breast milk bags, and then freeze immediately and put in the coldest section of your freezer, or a deep freezer.


Decide who to donate to.


Milk banks. There are many human milk banks in the United States that are in great need of donated milk. They provide milk to the most medically fragile infants who will most benefit from the medicine that is breastmilk. After undergoing a screening process, the milk bank will provide you with milk collection and shipping supplies so that you can easily send them your milk. To begin the donation process, visit the website of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America: www.hmbana.org.


Informal milk sharing. Some mothers wish to directly donate to another mother and baby in need. This is called informal milk sharing. There are two well-known organizations that can help connect you with a recipient family: Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies. There can be a liability and other risks associated with informal milk sharing, so it is recommended to carefully do your research before becoming a donor.


More information on milk donation can be found here: https://breastfeedingusa.org/content/article/milk-sharing-formal-and-informal


For More Help:


An International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (“IBCLC”) can be an excellent resource to help guide you through the milk suppression or exclusive pumping/milk donation process. Your IBCLC can also support you emotionally through this very difficult time. To find an IBCLC near you, visit: https://uslca.org/resources/find-an-ibclc or https://ilca.org/why-ibclc-falc/


Support group for bereaved parents - http://nationalshare.org/


General information on lactation after a loss – http://www.lunalactation.com/final_clinical_lactation.pdf

https://lllusa.org/lactation-after-loss/

Written by Katherine Havener IBCLC RLC




Katherine Havener is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in private practice in Roanoke, Virginia. She specializes in tongue and lip ties, as well as weaning. She can be found at StarLactation.com. She is also the author of the well known night weaning children’s book, “Nursies When the Sun Shines.” She is the mother of four daughters, all breastfed.

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